Why the new Sustainable Development Goals won’t make the world a fairer place

Added: 08-14-2018

According to Jason Hickel, of the London School of Economics, the United Nations’ 2015 Sustainable Development Goals are flawed and unobtainable due to competing priorities. Hickel suggests that the prescribed economic formula of increasing the global gross domestic product cannot accomplish the twin goals of eliminating poverty and decreasing consumption and production, without concurrently addressing other causes of poverty.

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Type Reading Time Author Date Source
article 7 minutes JASON HICKEL 08-23-2015 https://theconversation.com/
Type Reading Time
article 7 minutes
Author Date
jason hickel 2018-08-14 00:00:00 UTC
Key Takeaways

  • The author feels that many of the United Nations’ (UN) 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are laudable, but may be unattainable as some of the goals seem contradictory.
  • The SDGs call for sustainable levels of production and consumption, but, he feels, don’t address the consumption levels of the wealthiest nations, and, further, contradict this goal by relying on economic growth to eliminate poverty on a planet who is 50% over capacity at present.
  • The SDGs also fail to address some significant causes of global poverty including: unfair trade practices, financial speculation raising food prices, tax evasion in already impoverished countries, and untenable levels of national debt.
  • The author also suggests that the UN does not clarify how they will obtain trillions of dollars in extra funding needed from private investment, nor does it address the four-fold difference in its measure of extreme poverty and that of scholars in the field.


Writing before the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) were adopted in September 2015, anthropologist and London School of Economics lecturer Jason Hickel laments the goals’ inadequacy in addressing the global economic change needed for real poverty relief. He feels the SDG draft version offers a positive message about the need to combat poverty, decrease unsustainable levels of consumption, and fight climate change; the offered solution (Goal 8) of continued industrial growth, measured by increasing gross domestic products (GDP) in poorer countries, contradicts other proposed goals. Since, as Hickel states, current “global production and consumption levels are overshooting our planet’s capacity by about 50% each year,” simple increases in some countries’ GDP won’t cause overall improvement without decreasing the consumption levels of wealthier nations.

Hickel comments that increased growth historically fails to significantly benefit impoverished people. By not suggesting wealth redistribution and reduction of over-consumption by the top 1%, he suggests that the SDG will take nearly 200 years to implement and require “3.4 Earths to sustain us.” In addition, he points out that the SDGs don’t address some significant causes of global poverty including: unfair trade practices, under-regulated financial markets, and wealthy tax evaders and untenable levels of national debt in already impoverished countries.

The major weakness of the SDG, according to Hickel, is the “mis-measurement of poverty.” Recent research suggests the SDGs measure of extreme poverty ($1.25/day) is almost four times less than what’s needed to meet basic needs and normal life expectancy as outlined in the UN’s own Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He suggests that eradicating global poverty will require a complete overhaul of existing economic practices, rather “than just weeding around the edges of the problem,” and this will be the ultimate cause of the the SDG’s unfortunate but predictable failure.


Anthropologist and policy consultant Jason Hickel: http://www.lse.ac.uk/researchAndExpertise/Experts/profile.aspx?KeyValue=j.e.hickel%40lse.ac.uk&from_serp=1

Written for The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/us